by Jon Day
TOKYO, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- As the year rapidly draws to a close and those in the Kasumigaseki and Nagatacho political hubs of central Tokyo are counting down their last hours of political duties of 2015 and looking forward to a few day's respite, the nation at large is still reeling in the wake of a seismic security shift that took place this year against public will.
As has consistently been the case with Japan's leader Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since he came to power for the second time in 2012, when he, personally, wants something doing, he does it swiftly, ruthlessly and, if necessary, in a unilateral manner that circumnavigates or simply ignores laws and charters.
It was around about this time last year that Abe's brute force as a autocrat fully came to light when the hawkish leader, still believed at the time to be an "economic savant" brought to rescue Japan from the doldrums of economic stagnation and deflationary malaise with his magical "Abenomics" bow and arrows of economic reforms and fiscal policies, bulldozed into effect a hugely unpopular and highly controversial secrecy law.
The law granted the government wider powers to declare and designate state secrets and impose harsher penalties on those charged with leaking them. Under the new law information designated as state secrets, pertaining to diplomacy, defense, counterterrorism and counterespionage, could be classified for up to 60 years, with those found guilty of leaking them, including journalists, facing prison terms of up to 10 years.
Abe, at that time, unbeknowst to the masses, had been comprehensively setting about shoring up the nation's military clout, with a reinterpretation of a key clause to the nation's war-renouncing Constitution by his cabinet, being eyed as a means to allow Japanese forces to have a broader scope to engage with adversaries and defend allies both at home and abroad.
Along with Abe's formation of a National Security Council (NSC) which was inaugurated to purportedly expedite the domestic and international communication of sensitive, security-related information, Abe's broader plans to fully usher in a national security agenda overhaul, in line with his "National Security Strategy" had begun taking place in earnest.
"The development was steady, yet ruthless and by the time the public fully realized what was going on, it was too late. What started off as dubious bills to be debated in parliament between Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and opposition parties, quickly became a cabinet decision to force the bills into law come what may," Asian affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua in a recent interview.
"The bills' passage through parliament came against a monumental public backlash, with protests and demonstrations taking place up and down the country on a scale and with an intensity not seen in Japan for decades. The public were livid, but despite tens of thousands descending on the Diet building in Tokyo on a daily basis in the months and days leading up to the bills being rammed through the upper house to show their utter enmity and call for the bills to be dropped, the calls were in vain," Imori said.
He went on to explain that Abe, as a career politician whose first stint at the helm was cut short owing to ill health, returned to power with a new determination to fulfill his previous mission and in doing so finish writing his own legacy in the future annals of Japan's history and, arguably, also finish the work of his grandfather, former prime minister, WWII combat leader and suspected war criminal, Nobusuke Kishi.
Imori said that it was now a common-held view that Abe, a known nationalist and member of the ultra-right wing, pro-revisionist, pro-Imperialist group Nippon Kaigi along with his coterie of likeminded nationalists from within his party and particularly within his cabinet, had long since set out to reinterpret Article 9 of Japan's pacifist Constitution with an eye on amending it permanently, so as to allow Japan to once again maintain a bona-fide military capable of operating autonomously without borders.
"This year, as other leading scholars, constitutional experts and lawyers have all attested, saw Abe's long-harbored plans take shape and has exposed the fragility of Japan's Supreme Law in the face of an authoritarian leader, who while trumpeting some of the virtues of democracy, at the same time, absolutely tramples over others," Imori said.
"There's no mistaking the fact that Abe is on a singular mission of recasting Japan's military, reversing 70 years of pacifism, and all under the misguided belief that Japan's militaristic past was in someway venerable, despite two atomic bombs and the entire international community stating unequivocally to the contrary," he said.
Other analysts have concurred, and while conceding that Japan's leader is indeed a very astute politician who maintained a busy international diary of currying favor where needed from allies and swing voters, offering generous amounts of investment and ODA to influence smaller economies, and all the while amping up a perceived threat in the neighborhood, so by the time it came for his grand reveal - the war bills - the international community had already been duly "handled", leaving only a politically apathetic and ill-informed public to remonstrate the move in the eleventh hour, alongside a toothless opposition camp.
"Here we are at the end of the year and it seems as though the biggest overhaul of Japan's security posture in the past 70 years never happened. There are no more protests, foreign media have dropped the story and the public have seemed to, as is always the case, just accepted their lot," Teruhisa Muramatsu, a political analyst, told Xinhua.
"There's an expression that pertains to a Japanese ideology that Abe has exploited masterfully; the notion of 'shouganai' which translates to 'there's nothing that can be done.' Rather than being a defeatist maxim, it's a means by which we Japanese people move forward through hardships. Once the bills were passed in the upper house, almost the next day the 'shouganai' mentality had taken over Japan; the protests stopped and people returned to their lives," Muramatsu explained.
With the Japanese public now malleable again, Abe was granted free reign to draft and a approve last week a national budget that included a whopping 5.05 trillion yen (41.90 billion U.S. dollars) military budget for fiscal 2016.
The latest military budget is a 1.5 percent increase from levels in 2015 and marks the fourth time under Abe that defense spending has been hiked and totals the most since record keeping began.
In the military budget the defense ministry has earmarked some next-generation hardware in a sure-fire sign that Abe plans to take his military ambitions overseas in the foreseeable future, in a move that may well see an arms race in the region, as nerves in East Asia have already been jangled by Abe's war posturing.
Japan will buy an E-2D early warning plane and a KC-46A aerial refueling tanker, among other military toys, with the E-2D boasting an array of surveillance equipment and the ability to provide early warnings for missiles launched against Japan or its interests and allies.
The KC-46A refueling tanker will allow Japan's V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft to fly longer missions, the defense ministry has said, and four more Osprey's will be added to Japan's air force from the new budget.
Along with the support planes, the budget has also earmarked the purchase of six F-35A stealth fighters, which are the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) version of the next-generation, front role fighter, that equals the F-16 in term of maneuverability, but far outperforms the fighter in terms of stealth technology and comes equipped with a hefty internal cannon.
The F-35A can also be refueled midair, by the KC generation of tankers, to extend its missions, in a combination not befitting of a pacifist country focused solely on defense.
Along with unmanned Global Hawk drones, Japan will also up the number of its combat tanks as well as its amphibious vehicles, the defense ministry has said, and manufacturers are building a Soryu-class of submarine, one of the biggest in the world, with a new sonar system, in the hopes of becoming a chief supplier of Australia's next generation submarines.
"Looking back, all the steps have been rather logical for Abe, ending this year with the approval by his cabinet to spend a huge amount of the nation's money on its military buildup. But looking ahead the future is certainly unclear, as while Abe can legislate for his own actions, he can't for the reactions of Japan's neighbors or others who might take issue with its military expansion," Imori proffered.
"If tensions were to escalate further and say a skirmish tuned into a conflict, then Japan, and more precisely its peace-loving people, would be drawn unwittingly into a pernicious engagement. This is the real tragedy of Abe's political guile. At no point did the Japanese people ask for this," he concluded.